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Jonathan Harvey On...Beautiful Thing

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Jonathan Harvey currently writes for Coronation Street, has just finished his first novel and his play Beautiful Thing is about to be revived at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester. He also wrote Gimme, Gimme, Gimme and the recent comedy hit Beautiful People. He enjoyed huge success on stage recently with Canary, as well as the stage and film version of Beautiful Thing. He has also collaborated with the Pet Shop Boys on the West End musical Closer To Heaven. Recently Jonathan wrote Corrie! which received its world premiere at the Lowry and toured the UK.

We caught up with him to talk about his memories of Beautiful Thing, the cobbles and his latest plans.

Beautiful Thing seems to capture the feelings of first love perfectly. What inspired you to write the play?
When I wrote the play in 1992 the age of consent law for gay men in the UK was 21. For heterosexuals it was 16. I wanted to write a piece that showed that being gay was about falling in love and emotions, not just about sex. Every time the topic was debated in the House of Lords they kept going on about sodomy and buggery and I kept thinking ‘But it’s not like that….’ So I thought I would write a story that would demonstrate this. By making the protagonists fifteen and showing them fall in love, I was trying to make my stand.

Were you surprised at how well the play was received intially and the fact it's still being staged, as it seems to be as popular as ever?
I was very surprised indeed. I always liked the characters and the story they showed, but I wasn’t quite prepared for the impact they would make. Most writers are amazed and relieved that they get one production of a play. Never mind two. So the fact that it’s still being produced is enormously rewarding. I put a stop to it being performed a while back as I felt familiarity might breed contempt, and it had been on all over the place and I felt I had no say in its quality control. I would read reviews of productions I’d not seen and think ‘That doesn’t sound like my play’.. so if theatres ever approached me about doing it I’d point them in the direction of one of my zillion other plays! However, it has been a career-long ambition/dream to have something on at the Exchange, so I reversed my decision for them!

How much involvement did you have with the film version and were you pleased with the results?
I was involved in it all the way through, really. I wrote the script, attended the final auditions, went on set (even acted in it) and was involved in the editing. I was always made to feel it was mine. I was very proud of the results. Wasn’t quite sure how I’d managed to pull it off, I was so young! But I was blessed that Hettie Macdonald, who directed the play directed the film, so I knew the performances would be in safe hands with her, and it was going to be a movie that would live or die on those. So yes, I was very pleased.

Hollywood's new Spiderman and former Royal Exchange regular - Andrew Garfield played Jamie in 2006. Did you get to see him and what did you think?
Yes I worked with Andrew as that was a production I got involved in, he was fantastic, and won an Evening Standard Award for his performance. . I have been lucky to work with some brilliant actors on this play over the years: Jonny Lee Miller, Rhys Ifans, Philip Glenister, Hugh Bonneville who have gone on to be household names – more or less! The production Andrew was in was lovely, though for me my personal favourite has to be the original one at the Bush as its success was so surprising.

I saw a version of Beautiful Thing in California and they used the line about Gazza but pronounced it as 'Gaza' - giving it a whole new meaning. Where's the furthest - you have heard of the play being staged?
Israel, New Zealand.. er, it’s been done all over really. Most American productions have mispronounced that line. And many others! You should hear them say ‘the Gloucester Pub.’ 

Do you think gay representation within stage and film has moved on since Beautiful Thing was first staged?
It’s certainly moved on in terms of TV, but I’m not sure about theatre and film. Brokeback Mountain, obviously was a huge hit, and I thought Milk was wonderful. Otherwise Hollywood seems to prefer having ‘the gays’ as a sub plot. Maybe I can’t think of any obvious plays, as maybe gay characters are now incorporated in more in dramas that are just about ‘people’. Or maybe I’m just being dense/forgetful – this is a distinct possibility.

Your play Canary was staged recently in Liverpool and Hampstead and it was well received. Has that given you the drive to write more plays?
It was a joyous experience to return to theatre, and with such an ambitious play. I also wrote the play Corrie! Which toured for 6 months earlier this year. I will be writing more plays, yes, and have recently been commissioned by the National.

You are writing a novel, what's it about?
I have just finished my first novel All She Wants, which will be out next year. It’s about a television actress called Jodie McGee who is fired from her job on a prime time show for getting drunk at an awards do, and how she claws her life back together. I guess you could say it’s a comedy.

Are there any plans to bring the show Corrie! back and do you think that Coronation Street could work as a musical like Acorn Antiques?
No there are no plans, and I’m sure a musical could work. I believe there is one going on soon, but I am not involved in it.
Is there snobbery in the theatre industry as you write for TV also?
No, I think it sometimes goes in my favour, to be honest. If a theatre can put ‘from the writer of Gimme Gimme Gimme’ in their pamphlet or 'Coronation Street', I suppose it makes the play less of an unknown quantity.

You write cracking lines in Coronation Street. Can you share your favourite Blanche line with us?
I particularly enjoyed her reading a magazine about serial killers and commenting. ‘Oooh, nasty gash!’ – you can learn a lot about my sense of humour from that. (Filthy)

Lastly, if someone has not heard of Beautiful Thing - can you give them some reasons for coming to see it in Manchester? 
It’s a fantastic production, performed  by actors at the top of their game and directed by a brilliant director. It’s a good laugh in a beautiful theatre. And it’s not that long so you won’t get a square arse!

Beautiful Thing is at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester from 9 November - 3 December.


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